30 Dec 2014

Tarski (§5) of “The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics”, entitled ‘5. Truth as a Semantic Concept’

by Corry Shores

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[The following is summary. All boldface, underlying and bracketed commentary are my own.]

Alfred Tarski

The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics

Part I. Exposition

5. Truth as a Semantic Concept



Brief Summary:

Although we normally think of truth as a logical concept rather than a semantic one, Tarksi has shown that it is in fact semantic, because we understand it more clearly by means of his semantic formulation.



Previously Tarski provided the ‘material conditions’ for a sentence to be true, which is that its name can take a truth predicate and be equated with its true articulation in some language. Specifically, a sentence p in some language needs to be equated with its name X, which is predicated as being true:

(T) X is true if, and only if, p.

Now in this section, Tarski proposes a name for this conception of truth: “the semantic conception of truth”.

Semantics is a field that is concerned with expressions and their meanings.

Semantics is a discipline which, speaking loosely, deals with certain relations between expressions of a language and the objects (or “states of affairs”) “referred to” by those expressions. As typical examples of semantic concepts we may mention the concepts of designation, satisfaction, and definition as these occur in the following examples:

the expression “the father of his country” designates (denotes) George Washington;

snow satisfies the sentential function (the condition) “2 is white”;

the equation “2 ● x = 1” defines (uniquely determines) the number 1/2.

‘Designates’, ‘satisfies’, and ‘defines’ express relations, but ‘true’ has a different logical nature. It “expresses a property (or denotes a class) of certain expressions, viz., of sentences.” (336) But even though truth is a logical property unlike these other semantic notions, Tarski thinks that truth is still a matter for semantics. He provides a couple of reasons: 1) our formulations for truth refer to sentences or to the objects ‘talked about’ by these sentences, and 2) the simplest and most natural way to provide an exact definition of truth involves using such semantic notions as satisfaction.

It is for these reasons that we count the concept of truth which is discussed here among the concepts of semantics, and the problem of defining truth proves to be closely related to the more general problem of setting up the foundations of theoretical semantics.

Tarski acknowledges that semantics cannot do everything. (337)

Semantical notions have been a part of philosophy, logic, and philology from the beginning. However they “have been treated for a long time with a certain amount of suspicion.” (337) This suspicion has been warranted, since all efforts to present semantic notions clearly have been “miscarried”. To make matters worse, these semantic concepts have led to such paradoxes and antinomies as “the antinomy of the liar, Richard's antinomy of definability (by means of a finite number of words), and Grelling-Nelson's antinomy of heterological terms.” (337)

Despite these shortcomings in the field of semantics up to this point in history, Tarski believes “that the method which is outlined in this paper helps to overcome these difficulties and assures the possibility of a consistent use of semantic concepts.” (337)




Tarski, Alfred. The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics”. In The Nature of Truth: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. Michael P. Lynch, ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts / London: MIT, 2001, pp.331-363.

A hyperlinked online version can be found here:


The Lynch edited book writes this in the acknowledgments:

Alfred Tarski. “The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 4 (1944). Copyright 1992 by the Estate of Alfred Tarski. Reprinted by permission of Jan Tarski.

Further bibliographical information from

Alfred Tarski (1944) The semantic conception of truth and the foundations of semantics (Reprinted as Chapter 4 of Martinich’s anthology). This is an abridged and updated version of his 1935 long paper Der Wahrheitsbegriff in den formalisierten Sprache (The concept of truth in formalized languages), itself a translation from his book in Polish of 1933.

And yet further bibliographical information from the German wiki page for Tarski


Der Wahrheitsbegriff in den formalisierten Sprachen. In: Studia Philosophica. [Lemberg] 1 (1936), S. 261–405 (Vorabdruck datiert 1935).[4] Der Artikel ist eine deutsche Übersetzung der erstmals 1933 gedruckten polnischen Arbeit, die aber schon 1931 der Öffentlichkeit präsentiert wurde. Nachdruck in Karel Berka, Lothar Kreiser (Hrsg.): Logik-Texte. Kommentierte Auswahl zur Geschichte der modernen Logik. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1983, S. 445–546, in englischer Sprache in Tarski: Logic, Semantics and Metamathematics - papers from 1923 to 1938 by Alfred Tarski. Oxford 1956, 1983.

The German text can be found here:



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